This edition has been completely reformatted for optimal reading on an electronic reader.
The subject for The Task, begun in 1783, was suggested by Cowper’s friend Lady Austen. The poem was published in 1785. Divided into six books, the poem begins with a mock-heroic account of the sofa, but soon expands into a reflection on a number of subjects including retired life in the countryside, the pleasures of gardening, attacks on slavery, fraud, and dishonesty, and it ultimately ends on a religious theme.
It was greatly admired by Jane Austen (who quoted extensively from it in her novels), Robert Burns (who asked ‘Is not The Task a glorious poem?’), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who praised the poem’s ‘chastity of diction’ and ‘harmony of blank verse’). Cowper’s use of blank verse presaged the work of James Thomson and William Wordsworth.
The text of this ebook is based on the following editions of Cowper’s work
• Cowper (vol 1), Cowper (vol 2) edited with noted by Henry Thomas Griffith.
• H. S. Milford’s Complete Poetical Works.
• Robert Southey’s Works of William Cowper (for all volumes refer to archive.org)
The footnotes are primarily based on those of H. T. Griffith. We have attempted to limit each page to ten lines (however this is dictated by the length of the notes). Where possible notes are provided on the same page as the verse they refer to. This is to facilitate ease of reference, and is unique to this edition. Notes are indicated by a bracketed letter: eg [a]. The footnotes include omitted or additional text, together with material useful to the general reader. We have hyperlinked non-fiction secondary material to its original source via archive.org so that you can view the original reference. This is unique to our edition. We provide English translations to Latin and Greek references in the notes.
Unlike most other texts, when providing excerpts from secondary material (including Shakespeare’s plays) we always indicate the character speaking the excerpted lines, together with information to help the reader establish context (for example we indicate where the character may be reading; or, if the quotation occurs in an answer to a question we include the question being asked). All intratextual references are hyperlinked.